Herd member Emily Price has a great post this week on e-books taking over the traditional paper book market.  As an author, I absolutely love physical books, but I also read e-books when I’m on the road and have happily published a couple digital books myself. Both are cool. Both are necessary.

I have another question, though: Where did all the damn stores go? And I don’t mean just bookstores, but game stores, music stores… anything stores. I’m a big book nerd, so technically I know what happened to Borders, and I’m a gamer and a former DJ, too, so I get the picture about Electronic Boutique and Virgin Megastore and so on. They were all eaten by virtual competitors. Before technology is blamed, though, remember that people were sweating chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble for running mom-and-pop bookstores out of business the same way people are sweating e-books now for “destroying” the physical book. Same story, different villains. It’s progress, and as long as books are still readable, music decent, and games fun, I’m OK with that.

What I’m not OK with is losing my best tool for discovery: physical browsing. Yes, I click through the Apple App Store front every day looking at the highlighted stuff, or visit my favorite hip-hop blogs to get the latest download. But there is something, a randomness, that comes from physically being somewhere. Remember that one great game that you never heard of, but you literally stumbled upon it in the store? It might have had an amazing cover, or been available when your favorite game was out of stock, but for whatever reason you took it home and totally fell in love.  Does that happen to you as much anymore? It happens to me sometimes, but not nearly as often (and never at GameStop, the Wal-Mart of game shopping). I feel like the store experience has been narrowed down into an Internet-powered tube with no peripheral vision.

The immediate replacement is blogs, and blogs like, eh, this one are great: Visit it every day to see what your favorite tastemaker has to say or, if you are lazy like me, RSS feed it and the news is delivered to your virtual door. The problem is that blogs are myopic by nature. Even in this rant you’re reading right now I’m selecting what facts to share, what ideas to keep, and what you and I should be discussing. It’s like going into a music store and the owner only has a handful of items. It could be a great, curated experience, but you’d never fool yourself into thinking that you knew exactly what was hot in music by visiting one or two limited stores. Blogs can’t be explored like a bookstore or record store.

There is, of course, no immediate solution to the discovery problem, since the serendipity that helped you find an unlikely favorite game, album, or book is damn near missing from the Internet. The closest you can get to it now is catching someone’s random retweet on Twitter. Physical stores won’t be back anytime soon, so I’d be happy to have publishers stop making stuff for a minute and start helping us discover the millions of great things already out (I’m looking at you, Android).

So what do you guys use to discover new games, books, or whatever? What tools do you use to discover what you don’t know?

[Photo courtesy of F33 // CC 2.0]

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